How to Choose a Baby Crib Mattress

You may think choosing a baby crib mattress is as simple as driving to the store and finding a crib mattress that fits your new baby’s crib and your budget.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The importance of a good crib mattress cannot be expressed strongly enough. Not only is the right crib mattress essential to keeping your baby alive and healthy, but your choice of crib mattress may later influence his or her physical development.

Baby Crib Mattress

If this sounds overly complicated, let’s consider it step by step:

1. A crib mattress must fit the crib with no more than a single finger width between the rails of the crib and the side(s) of the mattress. A too-small mattress means your baby’s legs, arms, or even face could get caught between the bars and the mattress, resulting in injury and even death by suffocation, because very small babies are not able to extricate themselves. This is why it is important to buy or build the crib before buying the mattress.

2. A crib mattress should be firm, but not too firm. A too-soft mattress may cause your baby’s developing spine to become curved. A too-firm mattress will be uncomfortable (just as it is for you), and delay the time it takes your baby to learn to sleep through the night. Remember, your baby will spend 70 percent of his or her time on this surface!

3. A crib mattress should be made of materials that don’t “outgass”. That is, materials whose volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are minimized or absent. These materials include some synthetic memory foams, some adhesives used in foam mattress assembly, and even some adhesives used to bond the inner layers of standard mattresses. Some of these chemicals have been linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. If possible, choose an organic baby crib mattress with vent holes and a natural latex cover.

4. When it comes to making a choice between an innerspring baby crib mattress versus a foam mattress, most parents are torn. Some experts say a properly vented innerspring mattress with firmer edge coils and a latex cover is the only way to go. Others, basing their evaluation on newer and less toxic foams (made from soybean oil, for example, or pure natural latex) say the most important features of a crib mattress are not materials but firmness, venting and a non-toxic covering material. This sounds like eminently sensible advice.

5. Check the mattress pedigree. If it’s being sold as organic, check to see that it has the USDA Organic label. If it is certified VOC-free, look for the Greenguard Indoor Air Quality Certified label, or other indications that the mattress does not outgass. Some baby crib mattresses may carry the JPMA (Juvenile Products Manufacturing Association) label, and this is the most common label in products designed for babies and children.